“The Solar Adoption Experience For Consumers Has Been Poor”

“The Solar Adoption Experience For Consumers Has Been Poor”

One of the strongest reasons for encouraging solar rooftop, besides the obvious benefits, is the opportunities it creates for jobs, when compared with utility scale solar. Thanks to a more open market, a whole eco-system of suppliers, be it modules, structures, inverters and more have adapted to the opportunity. Finally, the very fact that in an open market, everyone with a better product, design or service believes they have a chance to do well means much more competition. Investors have naturally tried to pick potential winners here. We spoke to Gautam Das, Co-founder at Oorjan Cleantech Private Limited, one such firm that has sought to make quality and access to finance the mainstay of its outreach into the solar rooftop business.

Q. Tell us a little more about the firm, in terms of its journey so far.

gatam das, co-founder, oorjan

Gautam Das, Co-founder, Oorjan

Oorjan is co-founded and led by IIT Mumbai (and ISB / Stanford / Berkeley) alumni with experiences across renewable energy, engineering, EPC, finance, operations and building large businesses. We are headquartered in Mumbai and have offices in Pune, Bangalore, Patna, Silvassa and Nagpur. We are currently operating across 14 states and union territories and aim to expand further.

Oorjan is highly invested into people, technology and infrastructure. We were at a couple of million ( $2 – $5 million range) last year as on March‘20 (revenues).

Oorjan has more than 1500 customers including large industrial and commercial end-consumers spread across 14 states/UTs in India. In addition, the company has supported more than 20,000 systems’ designs for end consumers and/or partners. So far, the total installed capacity stands at more than 13 Mega Watt with a few upcoming projects already in the pipeline. Currently, we are a team of 50 people with experiences across engineering, solar technology, financing and operations. Many of them are engineers from IITs, IIM, and CA, CS from premium institutes and have experience of working in large multinational companies.

As far as the growth plans are concerned, we want to bring solar to the masses in India and make it affordable, easy to adopt and hassle-free for consumers. Oorjan wants to be the most reliable solar partner in India. “Think Solar Think Oorjan” is our motto.

Also, we have recently launched an online portal called “Greenstitute” to build awareness on solar among students, consumers and investors. Parallelly, since our team at Oorjan may not be able to serve across India, we are exploring a franchise model for selective states.

Q. Rooftop solar has fallen well behind utility solar in India. What do you ascribe this to?

The most important reason is lack of awareness and it is often perceived that solar rooftop requires large capital investment. However, one kilowatt of solar system costs less than a premium mobile phone and in addition, it’s an investment into green energy and the saving in electricity bill continues for 25 years.

Another reason behind the unexplored potential of this sector is the perceived fear of discontinuous power supply as opposed to the power supply from the grid. However, rooftop PV systems are highly dependable systems when coupled with the use of battery storage. And with the help of net-metering, the power supply is uninterrupted which in turn reduces the cost of the overall system in the longer run.

Solar is not only environmentally responsible, but the investment too breaks-even within 3 to 4 years. The system yields high returns on investment and is commercially viable.

Renewable energy ecosystems and policies are yet to mature and the adoption experience for consumers has been poor over the last couple of years. Companies like Oorjan are addressing this aspect by offering turn-key projects including net-metering and financing.

Q. An abiding issue around rooftop solar is the immense confusion around prices. From incorrect comparisons with utility solar rates to confusion around subsidies. What is the way out of this? What can the rooftop industry do about it?

Oorjan is constantly building awareness through digital and physical platforms on financing, subsidies and state-level policies. The cost of solar rooftop has significantly reduced over years.

It is all about awareness on affordability, financing and hassle free adoption experience! Oorjan is a “Cleantech + Fintech” company enhancing solar adoption by consumers and investors.

The company uses technology and financing tools to offer turn-key solar energy solutions to end consumers in industrial, commercial and residential space. Turnkey includes premium products, reliable installation, grid-synchronization, approvals, financing and hassle-free maintenance.

To address this, rooftop industry can play a major role by taking these measures:-

-Offer easy financing options to consumers to make solar affordable (Oorjan offers easy EMI and/or pay-per unit options to residential, industrial and commercial end consumers)

-Hassle free adoption experience (We offer turn-key project including financing and regulatory approvals)

-Protect consumers and investors (Co-invest with consumers and investors to boost confidence. Company offers financial structuring to protect all partners interest)

-Build awareness that solar is commercially viable and environmentally responsible (We solve this through technology and digital approach – Oorjan own a platform called “Greenstitute”)

-Offer trustworthy and reliable technology (Oorjan offers premium products and services)

Q. How big is the financing division for Oorjan? How many customers and volume of financing has Oorjan enabled till date? Do you only arrange to finance or invest/plan to invest directly too?

Oorjan offers financing to all consumers subject to the clean credit track record of the borrower and internal policies. Gautam (Co-founder and CEO)is an ex-Director of Citibank India and CFO, Manjesh Nayak too is an ex-banker. We have a highly skilled team to access and promote financing.

Our offering to end consumers include both loans with 12-84 EMIs as well as PPA (Power Purchase Agreement). We have deployed both our own and 3rd party investors money till date. One of the key-highlights of our offering to residential projects is that consumers can pay in 12 EMIs without any interest.

Q. What do you feel about the future of the C&I segment going forward? Which states offer the best potential for growth here, considering how slow industrialised states like Maharashtra have moved thus far?

Investment in solar could be a long-term solution for maintaining business sustainability.

In the last few years, Oorjan has onboarded a lot of C&I customers across many  Indian states and Union Territories like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Daman and Diu and  Dadra Nagar Haveli etc.

Investment in solar projects breaks even in 3-5 years for most of the companies and it also makes the business sustainable. Most importantly, annuity saving continues for 25 years and protects consumers from the increasing price of grid electricity. In addition, 100 kW of solar adopted by a company is equivalent to mitigating 3,000 tonnes of carbon-dioxide i.e., plantation of 4,900 teak wood trees over it’s project life.

Maharashtra stands third in the country as far as the solar potential is considered after the states of Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir. Maharashtra with its high level of industrialisation, has the potential to be a game-changer for the entire energy mix for the country.

Q. The rooftop segment has multiple players, intense competition, with rules varying from state to state. How does Oorjan plan to grow and differentiate its offerings in such a market?

Oorjan is unique because of its proprietary technology, premium hardware and financing options while offering hassle free solar adoption experience to end consumers. The solar market is huge in India and we all can co-exist. There are 1000+ companies in India and we are one of the fastest-growing companies in India.

Q. As an investor-backed firm, how do you see investors evaluating the solar opportunity in India? Does distributed solar offer opportunities too for startups?  

Renewable energy is the need of the hour, it is commercially viable and environmentally responsible. The market size and opportunity in India is enormous, and the adoption of solar energy is going to grow exponentially. Solar ecosystem in India is evolving fast and is expected to scale up in both distributed and land- mount space. Oorjan is powered by technology and financing to make solar adoption hassle free for end consumers. Our investors, co-founders and entire team are more bullish than ever before and committed to build a scalable business in sustainable living space.

Q. How has Covid impacted your firm?  

COVID-19 and lockdown impacted the entire world and we too are not insulated from this pandemic. However, we decided to utilize the time to plan our comeback and build resilience while ensuring safety of our valued customers as well as team members. We spent significant time on training and adding value to the ecosystem. We launched our online training platform, Greenstitute and a few relevant training modules. These modules are made available free of cost on the public domain for people to generate information and interest in solar energy. When lockdown was relaxed, we completed Mumbai’s largest solar installation at a commercial building with 525 kWp capacity. We made use of the “Oorjan site survey app” to limit physical surveys, without compromising the quality of delivery. Our team of site engineers and sales executives followed necessary protocols to build customer confidence and reliability during the pandemic. We are back on track in full form.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International